Headaches are a very common complaint amongst patients, and are a large source of both lost income and lost time. While many patients medicate with over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen and tylenol, the recent news reports of medical studies linking these drugs to dangerous side-effects of kidney and liver damage are sending patients in search of natural treatments.
While some natural medicines such as the herb Feverfew can often be used as a trial as a replacement for over-the-counter type headache medications, a good work-up for underlying causes is much more effective.
COMMON TYPES OF HEADACHES
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. It is associated with pain that is usually dull or squeezing, and can be described as a general ache. The tension is usually found by having stiff, sore muscles in the upper back, shoulders, and neck muscles. Often times, the base of the back of the skull (occiput) is tender, with pressure reproducing pain.
Conventional treatment is usually limited to ibuprofen, tylenol, and other over the counter pain medications. While excellent for occasional pain, if used for any great frequency (more than twice a month), the below options are best.
Naturopathic work-up and treatments: the two most common causes are related to problems with maintaining stable blood sugar and problems with chronic muscular spasm. The blood sugar problems are effectively diagnosed by a two to four hour glucose tolerance test, where a fasting sugar is compared to sugar readings after an oral sugar challenge. Reactive hypoglycemia can then be diagnosed. Treatment for the blood sugar component is done very effectively with diet andozone therapy. The chronic muscular spasm does not require any special laboratory testing. It is very effectively treated with injections of natural medications into the muscle, and with acupuncture.
Migraine headaches are less common than tension headaches, but often more debilitating. Patients with migraine headaches who come to me have often been diagnosed with this condition elsewhere.
The most common symptoms associated with this type of headache include nausea and sensitivity to sound or light. Some patients describe visual changes that precede the headache, whle others simply wake up with the pain.
Conventional medication can be useful if a patient is responding to preventative "triptan" type drugs or low-dose beta blockers. If these are well-tolerated, they are a good option for this debilitating pain. If a patient is not responding well to the preventative drugs and is still having more than one attack a month, the below natural treatments and naturopathic work-up should be considered.
If a patient is having a migraine attack, the best treatment is the Myer's injection as described below, with added magnesium. My patients have found it more potent and better at aborting the pain, compared with other natural and prescriptive agents. Relief is usually present immediately after the injection, and the migraine does not return.
Naturopathic work-up and treatments: involve a work-up for food sensitivities and mineral stores in the body. Many patients experience significant relief after identification of food sensitivities through a blood test or sublingual/provocation oral testing is done, and elimination of those foods is done. Mineral levels, of magnesium in particular, can be low. If an acute migraine attack is occurring,Myer's injections high in magnesium are often very effective at immediately aborting the attack. A short treatment course of Myer's injections can be effective in many at reducing the frequency of attack as well.
Cluster headaches are less frequent than other forms. They are characterized by one-sided pain, suually around the eye. Occasionally symptoms of blood vessel involvement such as a runny nose may be present. Congestion and pressure can also be present. The headaches are more common in men, and may often be associated with stressful periods.
Alcohol avoidance is important in reducing the frequency of these headaches.
Naturopathic work-up and treatments: this type of headache usually does not require a conventional work-up to find an appropriate treatment plan. However, in most patients food sensitivity testing and chemical sensitivity testing can be useful, especially if there is significant exposure. Chemical sensitivities and food exposures are often the triggers to this headache. In patients who experience this headache in increased frequency during periods of stress, an adrenal stress index to measure salivary cortisol at 4 times during the day is useful. The cortisol pattern, if abnormal, can be corrected to restore normal hormone secretion. A therapy called ultraviolet blood irradiation can be useful in reducing the frequency of these attacks. Usually 6-8 treatments are necessary. In a minority of cases, the Myer's injections described above can help patients in reducing the frequency of attacks.